Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Gregory Larson

Commitee Members

Len Broberg, Steven Schwarze


environmental communication, organizational communication, tension centered perspective, collaborative decision making, public participation


University of Montana


In response to the ever growing number of complex, multi-party, environmental disputes occurring over at least the past half-century there has been a growing call for increased voice for citizens in any government policy or action that affects the health of the environments in which they live. In response to criticisms of the most widely used mechanisms for public participation, such as public comment periods and public hearings, the past few decades have seen a rise in the popularity and use of collaborative decision-making approaches. While such approaches may vary widely they tend to hold in common the belief that multiple community stakeholders with varied and sometimes contradictory interests can come together to work to find common ground on seemingly divisive issues. While such approaches have met some criticism from scholars, practitioners, and citizens, the fact remains that collaborative approaches are currently very popular forums of public participation in environmental decision-making. The current study examined a collaborative decision-making group, the Local Collaborative Group, utilizing a tension-centered perspective in order to gain insight into the challenges faced by stakeholders as well as management strategies they employed in an attempt to mitigate those challenges. What emerged was a picture of an organization facing a tension inherent in its mission, as well as a set of management strategies utilized by members which, in some cases, may have been more problematic than the tension itself. Further this study utilized Senecah’s (2004) Trinity of Voice theory to evaluate collaborative approaches and situate them within the landscape of public participation.

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